from the watch-this-space dept
With changes to copyright law in 1976 and again in 1998, this right was once again reiterated -- along with a clause saying that this right to terminate such grants exists "notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary." The reasoning, supposedly, was that this would stop powerful publishers/studios from getting content creators to sign away such termination rights (which had happened prior to 1976). This has resulted in a series of lawsuits, where heirs of old content creators are trying to reclaim the rights to certain content. Some of the famous cases have involved the characters Superman and the dog Lassie.
The latest battle involves Steinbeck's heirs, and their desire to regain control of certain Steinback works -- mainly for the purpose of selling the movie rights. Different circuit courts have ruled in somewhat contradictory ways on the issue -- which is the sort of thing that is helpful in getting the Supreme Court interested.
That said, it's difficult to see either side having much in the way of moral high ground here. Historically, this wouldn't even be an issue, because the works of Steinbeck should be public domain material by now -- under the terms of copyright when he wrote them. The fact that they're not in the public domain is a huge travesty, and makes the squabbling over which individuals or organizations (who had nothing to do with the actual content in question) should get to profit from these works particularly silly.